Why I am living in Saigon, Vietnam

I’ve just realized that I’ve been living in Ho Chi Minh City (the locals call it “Saigon”), Vietnam for more than a year.

Ho Chi Minh City at Dusk

I believe there’s no better place to stay in South East Asia for online entrepreneurs that are running non-venture backed businesses than Vietnam’s largest city and commercial hub. Here’s why.

1. Fast Internet

The internet is very fast. Downloading large files, making Skype calls or using Javascript-heavy SaaS apps is no problem.

I’m sure that there are plenty of places with faster Internet (Singapore, Hong Kong?), but the internet is good enough to be highly productive.

When I was living on  in the Philippines or  in Bali I constantly had internet issues.

Here’s a speed test I just ran at my apartment:
internet-speed-saigon

2. Cost of living

Saigon is one of those places where you can easily get by on $800/month, but you could also spend $4k/month if you are living the high life.

Compared to other digital nomad hotspots, Saigon (district 1) is slightly more expensive than Chiang Mai and a bit cheaper than Bangkok or Bali.

What I love about SE Asia is that not only are the living expenses here low, services like getting massages are very cheap. For example, I’ve recently hired a carpenter do build me a custom stand-up desk for about $65

How much does it cost to live well in Saigon?

Extrapolating from my current November expenses, this is how much I think I’ll spend this month:

  • Western style apartment in district 1 (including maid 3x week, electricity, internet): $500
  • Scuba diving vacation to Con Dao (small island near Saigon): $500
  • Motorbike rental: $60
  • Eating at restaurants: $300
  • Eating at home / buying groceries: $150
  • Going to cafes: $75
  • Misc expenses (phone credit, drinks, cinema, …): $150

Grand total: $1735

I don’t drink a lot of alcohol and rarely go to bars/clubs (the nightlife is stellar here!). Also keep in mind that I’m spending $500 on a scuba dive trip this month, so my actual living expenses are about $1200.

Check out my apartment:

aparment1

apartment2

James Clark who is much better with money than I am manages to spend less than $800/mo living in Saigon.

3. Efficient Transportation

If you are willing to get on a motorbike, getting arround Saigon is actually a lot more efficient than in other big Asian cities like Bangkok, Manila or Bali. Even taking a Taxi is usally faster than in said cities since there are not as many cars clogging the streets here.

Traffic in Saigon is crazy, but actually fairly safe. I rarely go faster than 40 km/h on my motor scooter.

saigon-traffic

On the flipside, public transport sucks. Sometimes I wish Saigon had a transportation system like Singapore or Vienna. That being said, I’d take a motorbike in Saigon over the BTS in Bangkok anytime.

4. Saigon is “happening”

I know this sounds vague, but there is so much energy here. Saigon is a huge city (6.6mm) full of people that are trying to make it happen. So many people are working hard trying to build a better future for themselves and their family.

Tons of driven people from all over Vietnam move from the countryside to Saigon to build a better life for themselves.

5. Great Cafe culture

Even though I don’t drink coffee, I love working from cafes.
There’s tons of great cafes here. Most of them have great WiFi and serve unlimited iced green tea for free.

idcafe
Above picture shows one of my favorite cafes, ID Cafe. The pic is stolen from James Clark, check out his post “The incredible cafe scene of Ho Chi Minh City”.

6. Little language barrier

If you are living in district 1, you’ll get by without ever having to learn Vietnamese. One of the things I disliked most about Thailand (Chiang Mai in particular) is that’s almost impossible to communicate with locals if you don’t learn the local language.

Vietnamese people are very proud of their language and identity, but that doesn’t keep them from learning English (unlike  people in places like France or Thailand).

7. Great food

I love Vietnamese food. The food is tasty, cheap, fairly healthy, but a bit heavy on rice and noodles. Jodi loves the food here so much that she is about to start offering food tours.

A bowl of Pho. Pic stolen from Jodi @ Legalnomads
A bowl of Pho. Pic stolen from Jodi @ Legalnomads

The great thing about Saigon is that if you’re not in the mood for Vietnamese food, there’s tons of other options. There are restaurants serving world-class food from places such as France, Italy, Japan or Spain. I probably eat sushi 2-3x per week.

8. Incredible community of online entrepreneurs

I know at least 20 other online entrepreneurs from all over the world that are living here and working on their businesses. This is an incredible community to spend time with and bounce ideas of each other. Most of them are members of the Dynamite Circle. There’s also a pretty cool coworking space called Saigon Hub.

Remember, you’re the average of your 5 best friends.

Bonus: Hiring opportunities

I haven’t fully taken advantage of this yet, but I have a couple of friends that are building out teams here in Saigon. Jesse Lawler has hired 5 or so software developers here while Steven is building a team of marketers.

Entry level programmers go for as little as $400-$500 per month while entry level freelance graphic designers can be hired for $2/hour.

####
If you want to learn more about living in Saigon, check out this podcast I recorded with Dan Andrews a while ago. Also check out this post called “Bootstrapping in Saigon” by  Jon Myers.

Have you visited Saigon? If so, did you like it?
Do you have any questions about living in Saigon?

Leave a comment below.

###

Image credit.

100 thoughts on “Why I am living in Saigon, Vietnam”

    1. Hey Daryl,

      It’s actually 2BR apartment that I’m sharing with Taylor. Total monthly costs are about $1000 / 2. I’ll email you the contact info of my real estate guy.

      Cheers,

      David

    2. Nice post thx David!
      @Daryl I came to Saigon after 8+ years renting in TYO/HKG so I thought 750USD would be a cheap apartment. Needless to say, I was stunned. Having been in Saigon for 3 months I can tell you that 500USD is actually on the high end for a sufficient place in a good location. My spot includes access to a couple very nice coworking spaces, SaigonHub.vn, (normally 90USD/mo) has a balcony, nice rooftop and pool(!) for only 400USD. Maid, laundry and utilities included. Ok, I’ll admit, the pool has been empty since I arrived for some reason 🙁 and the interior of my place is a bit more spartan than David’s. But a lot of guys get by with 250-300USD for rent. Of course you can 10x that and ball out, but as David says, it is super affordable!

      1. Thanks for the info! I’m an American who has never been out of the United States but I’ve been giving lots of serious thought to getting out of the country for an extended period of time…

  1. Sounds awesome and I’m planning on being in Saigon this time next year. What about families with kids? Chiang Mai is the hub for expat families, how does Saigon rate?

    1. Good question. I don’t have any friends with families here. Most families seem to live in District 2 or District 7. My gut-feeling is that Chiang Mai or Bali might be a better place for families. It also depends how old your kids are.

  2. When an expat complain about the local not being able to communicate in your language…I really think you have a problem.

    1. My native tongue is German and I’m definitely not complaining about not being able to speak it =)

      In all seriousness though, unless you’re doing it as a hobby, the return on investment on learning some obscure South East Asian language with 7 tones is most likely going to be negative.

      This obviously changes if you decide to settle down / marry a local / etc, but that’s not really what I’m looking for.

  3. Viva Saigon!

    I totally agree that Saigon is “happening.” It’s not something you can explain though, you just have to be there to feel it. There’s something in the air that’s just so damn invigorating.

  4. David, Thanks for this great post. I was planning on moving to Bangkok or Chiang Mai early to mid 2014. I trade my own FX (Forex Account), and here in the United States that means I have to stay up all night to trade (because basically the FX market really moves most during the London Business day), and in South East Asia, because of the time-zone correlation, will can have a normal life. i.e., Work during the day and sleep at night (plus I love SEA) and the internet in BKK/CM is definitely good enough for my work. However, an acquaintance of mine (a business owner in Cambodia), has been telling me I should really be taking a serious look at Ho Chi Minh city. I know you did specifically point out the fast internet speed test in this post. My absolute most critical concern is Internet Speed/Stability/Dependability. Could you give a little more info. a the quality/dependability of your connection. How has your International Internet performance experience been? And is it easy to set up a Hardline connection? I plan on using a hardline connection with a Wifi Backup.

    1. Hi Brian,

      Internet is included in my apartment (see speedtest screenshot above). I’ve never had any issues, but occasionally Skype calls drop.

      I don’t know anything about setting up a new connection, but it might be a hassle.

      The internet won’t be better in Chiang Mai or Bangkok than it is here.
      Hope that helps.

          1. Would you mind running speedtest again, it will tell you the name of the company your on on the bottom if you could be so kind! I am looking for a good net company in Vietnam at the moment, would help me a ton!

      1. I can confirm that after living in Chiang Mai….. the internet sucks. 3 4* hotels so far have been disasterous. I did stay in prestige cm aparments for a month (19,000 baht) and it had an awesome LAN connection in the huge studio. If any digital nomads fancy Chiang Mai…. check this place out.

    2. hey brian, did you make the move yet? are you using the think or swim platform? i’m currently living in japan and thinking about the move to hcmc.

  5. Thanks for putting this together David…It’s great to know these options are out there. Best of luck with your projects

  6. David,

    Very informative post. I’m an avid listener of TropicalMBA. The fact that you guys have an entrepreneurial camaraderie there in Ho Chi Minh City, doe makes me a tad bit jealous. 😉

    Rock on—

    Robb

    1. Thanks Rob!

      We’ve got a good crowd here for sure. If you’ve got a chance to do so I’d definitely recommend coming out here for a few weeks or months.

      Cheers,

      David

  7. Interesting article! I’m Vietnamese and living here for 29 years. I agree with you in item 5 (cafe culture) and 7 (great food) 🙂

    1. Hi there 🙂 We are considering to visit Saigon for a few days. Do you know of anyone we can pay to guide us ? Looking for someone who know the interesting bits, good restaurants (not the fancy restaurants, but the good local restaurants), where to stay, how to get around etc 🙂 Any tips is welcome. Kind regards, Kjetil (Norway)

      1. Hi,Kjetilstore, I’m not sure that my comment reach you before your arrival to Saigon or not, but for the restaurant you can try Ngon restaurant, Cuc Gach restaurants that you can find on internet. Otherwise, many restaurants is running out there without name on internet. So just ask the locals nearby your hotel for it.
        Depend on your budget to get your stay, you can go to facebook and search for “Stay in SaiGon” or “Expat in Saigon” with Saigon as the former name of Ho Chi Minh city, you will see it heplful.
        The most interesting way to get around is to rent a motobike (or buy a motobkie tour). You will see how our transport is that reflect a part of our socierty. ^^. For more info, just email me! i’m willing to help.

  8. Thanks for the great info, awesome video too! I’m looking at heading to HCMC next summer to baseline my business and you helped give me a clear idea of what to budget for.

      1. Cool! Never been there but lots of friends have and rave about it.

        I’m going nomadic myself shortly, first France/Belgium/Netherlands and then down to southern Spain for the winter.

      2. I am new to this form of q&a. Please excuse me for asking, but what is it that you do that allows you to travel so frequently? I would love to pick your mind more about this question do you by chance have an email which I may contact you with?

  9. Nice, but I like to call it language “challenge” more than “barrier”! you cant pretend to learn english that easily, they are the third world after all (even in Europe we have more advanced countries where locals still dont speak english.. ):P

  10. David do you know a forum with info about living and doing business in Vietnam? Something like Thaivisa forum in Thailand?

      1. I imagined, that. Actually I searched info about A) starting a small business (requirements, issues, and headaches) and B) work permit/Visa connected to the new company, but I just found out websites from consultants, agencies, and so on which just list the rules and state that everything is good and easy. I spent only one year in Thailand and a few moths in the surrounding countries (excluding Vietnam), so I know that reality is always very different from the theory and the laws. And local forums are the best source. But if you have a good source for some infos, please let me know. And maybe it’s time to make a forum there, Thaivisa makes a lot of money here, directly or indirectly.

        1. That’s true. Maybe you should start a forum =)

          Easiest way to figure things out is probably to show up in Saigon and talk to local expat business owners.

          1. Exactly, probably in August. From Bangkok it is an easy trip, and I’d love to visit the city.

  11. Hi there, found this really interesting so thanks for posting! I was wondering if you knew how easy it would be for an expat to find work in HCMC? I will be moving with my partner who has been offered a position in the city.

  12. Thumbs up for you about Saigon. By the way, do you still keep carpenter
    contact that makes you custom standing desk? I have looked around shops
    but failed to find one. Hand-made is the obvious choice.

  13. hi, i do agree any places also have good things and bad things, the bad thing i ever met which is the landlords i met they are not following the terms signed in the contract, and did not return the deposit like : 343/57 Nguyen Trong Tuyen, Ward 1, Tan Binh district, HCMC, vietnam. Her name is Lan. please note this place and be careful once you want to stay there.

    1. Well, what did she say when not returning your deposit? If you did not break the contract, you have right to take deposit back.

  14. Hi,

    I’m thinking to live in Vietnam for a year to change the air, imbue my in their culture and break with my actual routine. I’m independent translator and I have many happy and loyal clients, so it I can work in any place in the world with internet.

    I like nature, sailing, reading. I consume tons of silence, makes me happy 🙂

    I don’t want to be travelling like a tourist during this year, so my plan is to rent a place that will be my home during the entire year. Eventually I wish to visit on some weekends other places in Asia: Cambodia, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, other places in Vietnam, Hong Kong and China.

    My wish is to live alone with my wife in a place near some river, beach or sea, with kitchen (I like to cook every day, this make me feel in home), minimum confort. Nightlife is not for me, I prefer family lifestyle.

    Can you recommend me some cities in Vietnam to do this?

    Thank you very much!

    Best regards from Argentina,

    Esteban

    1. Hi Esteban, Im Vietnamese and think can help you, in Vietnam the natural city is Da Lat, we call it Flower city because the weather and nature here. lots of flower and vegetable just can survive well in Da Lat. hope it helpful for you.

    2. Let come to Mui Ne where the beach is waving you. I have a Malaysian friend who got married to a Vietnamese girls and shettled near the Red sandunes with their daughter. His house looks to the beach where his wife plays surfing (her farvourite sport) and his daughter talks to snails, and he saves all these actions into his album everyday. They sell the paintings, he works online and there is a kingarden nearby as a heaven of his daughter. Of course there are many issues everyday that you can not avoid, but they are not too bad and no violence. His former house looked to Mui Ne fishing village where you can see people anchor their boats every early morning and transfer their seafood, you can enjoy the very fresh BBQ seafood on spot, then in the afternoon, sitting in front of your house, sightseeing the sunset and feeling the life slowly flows. From here you can go to Ho Chi Minh city for 200km (it takes 4 hours by bus) if you want to see how it is.

    1. Taiwan also has screamingly fast internet. When I visited last month, I got an unlimited mobile sim and the internet on my phone was better than I had at home in the SF Bay Area. 30 unlimited plans were like < $25 USD and there's also free wifi on every MRT train.

      At home you can get 100mbps if you want it and it's still not that pricey.

  15. I’m going to Saigon this Monday. Are any nomads still there or have they all gone back to Europe / Philippines? (ps., I’ll go to Philippines on Wednesday). Which Cafe is nomad-popular?

  16. Furnished room, clean, beautiful, near the city centre

    Address: 21st Century Apartments, Ung Văn Khiêm, Phường 25, Bình Thạnh District, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

    The 30m2 private bedroom with a bathroom inside, is a part of the apartment with 2 bedrooms, a kitchen and a living room. We also provide free laundry service, fast internet connection, cooking at your ease, as well as a good English speaking community with several “foreigners” in a mile.

    The flat is highly secured. The fee is 250 usd per month, excluding bills. Bills will be shared evenly.

    It takes only 5 minutes to get to District 1, centre of the city by either taxi or motorcycle. The place is surrounded by shops, taxi, just everything you need, but still remains a quiet living while indoors. Most of people here can speak English.

    We respect the privacy. Further terms might be discussed while viewing the room and signing the contract.

    The landlord is living in-house. The guests will have the keys after signing the contract. We don’t have neither check in nor check out time. You keep the keys, you may come and leave whenever you want.

    Conditions:

    1. Guests have to be female or a couple.

    2. There is no more than 3 people staying in the room.

    3. Initial Payment is 3 months (750 usd) which includes security deposit of 500 usd, which will be fully refunded when the contract ends.

    4. One-Year contract will be offered a 20% discount.

    For further information or viewing the room, please call Peter on (+84) 932 753 420.

  17. hello david:) I enjoyed reading your post! Thanks for the nice information as well! Am starting my internship from june for six months. Can you give me any advice for the housing?
    Thank you in advance,
    effy

  18. I lived in Saigon for 5 years teaching English.I am surprised the cost of living has even gone this high.It used to be just an average of 300-400usd dollars a month no matter your lifestyle.
    Great,peaceful place to be.I agree and appreciate they are willing to speak English but disagree when you complain about people who insist on speaking their own language in their own country.

    1. Hi I’m thinking of heading over there to teach English. Do you recommend it? Been teaching esl all my life. I’m 50 and living in Rome. Thanks mate.

  19. Thank you David for the insight. I found your blog while searching google, I am thinking about relocate to SE Asia to reduce living expense and increase living standard. While in US, it requires $2,000 just to crack the nut, with that same amount I think I can do very well in Sai Gon. I trade US equities for a living, which I can live anywhere as long as it has realiable internet.

  20. It’s really interesting when read your review about VietNam. We are always friendly and help people in needs.

    1. hello full Nguyen.. I heard in vietnam now is difficult to get internet ..can I ask you ? where exactly city in Vietnam we cant used Skype and whatsapp ?

  21. Top 10 most typical delicious dishes of Vietnam:
    1. Phở
    2. Nem rán
    3. Bánh mì kẹp
    4. Bún chả
    5. Cao lầu Hội An
    6. Bún bò Huế
    7 Bánh Xèo
    8. Chả cá Lã Vọng
    9. Bún bò Nam Bộ
    10. Hủ Tiếu

  22. Is the currency mentioned USD?
    I have a request to work for 6 month at TAT machinery, which is east of Saigon city (appartment provided).
    Weather might be a problem in summer 30C and 90% humidity?
    How is air quality / pollution?
    Can you keep your passport on you or is it taken when staying overnight at a hotel?

  23. Hi just arriving at HCM city looking for an apartment. You write in your article about 500 USD for a services apt. Can you help with some addresses. I need it from now. Thanks in advance for your reply Kind regards Ulrich

  24. Am in Need of Nanny,Caregiver.Do write me via private email address if Interested with the Said Job Position as soon as Possible.salary per month: $4000 Nanny.

    Location: (United States)Florida.
    Age: 6years Old Boy his name is (Alan) Contact Email: roberthall48 (@) hotmail.com

    Expect your RESUME if Interested.

    Dr Robert Hall.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *